The Cardinal (Burke) on concelebration

I have said again and again on this blog and elsewhere that concelebration, several or many priests saying Mass together, should be safe, legal and rare.  In the Latin Church this practice has been aggressively promoted since the Second Vatican Council.  It is a legitimate thing to do, when the occasion is right.  It should be done rarely, however, and with great care.

That said, His Eminence Raymond Card. Burke – this is the one to whom we can today truly apply the title “His Eminence” and “The Cardinal” – made a statement about concelebration with which I am in complete agreement.

From CNS:

Cardinal Burke cautions against over-use of concelebration

Cork, Ireland, Jul 10, 2012 / 01:42 pm (CNA).- Cardinal Raymond L. Burke believes that the “excessive” use of concelebration – the practice of priests saying Mass collectively – can result in their unique role in the sacred liturgy being obscured. [Mind you, “excessive” anything is too much, right?  Too much of a good thing is too much, right?  We can all agree on that.  But the point His Eminence is making goes beyond this truism.]

“I don’t think there should be an excessive encouragement of concelebration because the norm is for the individual priest to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass,” the head of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura told CNA July 9. [THAT’s the point.  Priests should say their own Masses.]

“If it is repeated too frequently, it can develop within him a sense of being another one of the participants instead of actually being the priest who is offering the Mass.” [I have seen this.  Priests, used to concelebrate, looking around, checking their watches, scratching this and that, attention scattered.]

One of the Catholic Church’s most senior American prelates spoke to CNA moments after addressing an international liturgical conference in the Irish city of Cork. The three-day event, organized by the St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy, explored the issue of “Celebrating the Eucharist: Sacrifice and Communion.”

The former Archbishop of St. Louis worried that, whereas the priest’s action is distinct, he “can seem to be participating in the Mass in the same manner as the congregation” if he concelebrates too often. “That’s the danger I see in excessive concelebration,” he said.  [For me, concelebration means… Chrism Mass, Holy Thursday, ordination to the priesthood maybe, perhaps a moment with priest friends in private, etc.  That’s about it.  Mind you, I usually say the older, traditional Mass, so concelebration is right out.  But when I am with other priests in these moments I just described, sure, I’ll occasionally concelebrate.]

The cardinal’s words of caution echo comments made recently by the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares. He told a gathering at Rome’s University of the Holy Cross on March 5 that that the “widening of the faculty to concelebrate needs to be moderated, as we can see when we read the (Second Vatican) Council texts.”

Cardinal Cañizares explained that concelebration “is an extraordinary, solemn and public rite, normally presided over by the bishop or his delegate,” surrounded by his priests and the entire community. But “the daily concelebrations of priests only, which are practiced ‘privately’…do not form part of the Latin liturgical tradition,” he said. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

In a wide-ranging interview, Cardinal Burke also outlined the reasons why a priest should not ad-lib his own words or prayers during Mass, since he “is the servant of the rite” and “not the protagonist – Christ is.”  [Say The Black and Do The Red!  You will always be right.]

“So it is absolutely wrong for the priest to think, ‘how can I make this more interesting?’ or ‘how can I make this better?’” he said.

He also noted with approval how the 1917 Code of Canon Law – since superseded by a new code promulgated in 1983 – explicitly stated that a priest should “accurately and devoutly observe the rubrics of his liturgical books to beware lest he add other ceremonies or prayers according to his own judgment.

“What kind of thinking is it on our part for me to think that I can improve on the liturgy that has been handed on in the Church down the centuries? This is absurd,” Cardinal Burke stated.

Similarly, the cardinal commended the 1917 Code for its clear stipulation that a priest in the state of mortal sin should refrain from celebrating Mass “without first availing himself of sacramental confession” or as soon as possible “in the absence of a confessor,” when the Mass is “a case of necessity” and he has “made an act of perfect contrition.

“Well, simply that canon that was in the 1917 code was eliminated and I think it should be reintroduced, because the idea of worthiness pertains in a preeminent way to the priest who is offering the sacrifice,” he said.  [Moreover, in the foreword of the older Missale Romanum there were specified things that the priest might do that were mortal or at least venial sins!  That was eliminated in the Novus Ordo.]


Read the rest there.

Fr. Z kudos to The Cardinal.  Ad multos annos.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. FraterPatricius says:

    As a member of a religious order, our daily Mass is almost always concelebrated by multiple priests. Sadly, many of the priests simply stand there throughout the Mass and make a limited effort to say the prayers aloud (if they make any effort at all) and/or make the requisite gestures. I also, however, know of many extraordinary, holy, pious, and elderly priests who, if not for the concelebration option, would not be able to say Mass daily because of physical limitations.

    The problems, as in most liturgical problems, arises from disregard for the prescriptions of the GIRM. When priests willfully choose to not follow the clear instructions of the Church, nonchalance is imminent and, God willing, the least offensive thing that happens.

    Please pray for us brothers who, though forced to maintain silence on liturgical issues for the sake of our vocations, still make every effort to treat our older priest confreres with charity all while desiring to rebuild our community through solemn liturgy, penance, and doctrinal orthodoxy.

  2. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    Could you explain (slowly, for the slow of mind) why concelebration should be safe, legal and rare, but Solemn High Masses shouldn’t be?


  3. greenlight says:

    I have just about convinced myself that Cardinal Burke will be our next Pope. At the very least I wouldn’t be surprised. We can hope.

  4. lh says:

    God bless Cardinal Burke.

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    High Mass is the Roman Rite default form historically, and it’s still the default for the EF.

    Concelebration is an exception.

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Look, you can skip breakfast every day, or you can have a full banquet every night plus a pig killing and roast.

    But breakfast and lunch and dinner, all with normal amounts of food, is still the default.

  7. frjim4321 says:

    “I have just about convinced myself that Cardinal Burke will be our next Pope. At the very least I wouldn’t be surprised. We can hope.” greenlight

    Anything is possible but he may be too far out of the main stream to be given serious consideration.

  8. iPadre says:

    “Too far out of the main stream to be given serious consideration.” I actually think that’s a good reason for consideration. What really does “main stream” mean? Is it the herd mentality? So, the sheep are heading for the cliff. Let’s join in the crowd of sheep so with don’t go against the grain.

    On another point. I prefer to concelebrate mainly at the cathedral, with the bishop. In other situations, it can become an occasion of sin by becoming too focused on the insanity of the celebrant and not on Jesus Christ.

  9. Gregorius says:

    At the seminary priests are strongly encouraged, though not strictly required, to concelebrate at the daily communal Mass particulary because Lauds is mixed into it (yes mixed, as in they throw the different elements of Lauds into different parts of the Mass instead of saying one then the other). On Sundays most of the priests have obligations to help say Masses in parishes in the surrounding area, and only one or two show up to concelebrate. I can’t judge why each priest chooses to concelebrate or not on weekdays, but I guess it is convenient, plus the seminary does have to keep to its schedule (and match it with the university’s schedule where they send their pre-theologians to class), and it can’t wait all morning for every priest to say Mass. There are simply not enough side altars to accommodate everyone unless they travel across campus to say Mass at different chapels. Not to mention concelebrating the daily liturgy eliminates the ability to use most of the side altars at a convenient time.

    On the other hand, the seminary/university has REALLY nice side altars, and they- like the high altar- are pretty much neglected, with one having its relic stone removed and yet to be replaced. The seminary does try to celebrate its Masses with due solemnity each day (two deacons fully vested, concelebrants wearing chasubles, an army of acolytes and lectors all in cassock and surplice, choir and schola in choir loft singing at every liturgy, etc) so they do attempt to take liturgy seriously, at least as far as they can according to (or should I say in contrast to?) the liturgical formation they themselves received. So in a more ideal world, the community Mass would still have the same solemnity, but each priest would say their own Mass and also have an acolyte to serve. Those priests and seminarians who are at private Masses would either be excused from Lauds, or have the Mass said at a certain time where they’d still make it. At the community Liturgy the celebrant would come in vested in cope, say Lauds with the community, switch to chasuble, and begin Mass. Since there would be no concelebration, it would not look awkward at all to say Mass at the high altar. The only problem would be the timing- the community Mass is an hour before university classes begin, and they begin VERY early. . .

  10. I think one of the loveliest sights one can see is a priest in the congregation of a church, being just a ‘normal person’ for a change, but participating privately in the consecration from his pew. It’s very humbling, and all the priests I’ve seen in that position look very recollected and very immersed in the Mass.

  11. Gregorius says:

    The reason for having Solemn High Mass is the same principle Cardinal Burke outlined- it is the juridical norm for the Roman Rite, just as it is the norm for each priest to say his own Mass. Of course, as the Old Mass is not the norm in most places the places that do say it don’t really have the realistic expectation of gathering enough people to celebrate in that way. Arguably the reason the reform restored the diaconate, allowed laymen to be instituted lectors and acolytes, and gave more options on what could be sung was precisely to foster the return of Solemn High Mass as the de facto norm of the liturgy.

    The places that do have a daily Solemn High Mass usually have their priests celebrate their own Low Masses at an earlier time. Of course, the places that can do that are usually monasteries and have the freedom to set their own schedule, not having to accommodate lay schedules. . .

  12. greenlight says:

    iPadre, I thought as well. And I’ve wondered aloud on several other blogs what a Burke papacy might have been like if he’d been elected instead of Francis and contrasted that with how a Burke papacy might be different coming after Francis. The implication was that someone like Burke coming after Francis would have a much more difficult time than coming after Benedict.

    Now I’m not so sure. I wonder if any Cardinals are having (forgive me) buyer’s remorse. I wonder if things continue as they are, if they might not try to swing the pendulum back next time. I dunno, that may be wishful, worldly, political thinking. I need to shut up and pray.

  13. greenlight says:

    Oops, I meant to address that previous comment to frjim4321. Apologies.

  14. Mike says:

    I have a sense, my you, only an intuition, that the next Pope is going to be quite different from our present dear Holy Father.

  15. “What kind of thinking is it on our part for me to think that I can improve on the liturgy that has been handed on in the Church down the centuries? This is absurd,” Cardinal Burke stated.

    Is the Ordinary Form of the Mass in fact the liturgy that has been handed on in the Church down the centuries?

  16. jacobi says:

    I personally think that routine concelebration has become, effectively, an excuse for many priests who are lazy, or no longer fully believe in the Mass, or who are thoughtless about those many in the world who lack a priest.
    Mark you, Cardinal Burke wouldn’t exactly come out and say that, but it’s close to what he thinks.

  17. I would agree in general.

    Having been to funerals of nuns where a bishop and 5-10 priests concelebrate, it’s an astounding sight – the apostles gathered round the altar doing as Jesus said to do. (Yes, I’m aware that the priests are not successors of the Apostles, so the symbolism is flawed, but that’s how I experienced it.) It’s also a strong symbol of collegiality – this is my brother priest visiting from far away. Not to minimise the bad side of concelebration, I just wish to point out the good side.

  18. Imrahil says:

    I quite agree, generally.

    I’d add as occasions for concelebration to the ones listed by our dear rev’d host:

    – the Holy Night Mass of Christmas Day
    – Easter Vigil
    if there is more than one priest in the parish (it makes sense that these Masses are not redoubled),
    and perhaps the Corpus Christi Mass which precedes the Procession (depending on the circumstances).

  19. Athelstan says:

    “If it is repeated too frequently, it can develop within him a sense of being another one of the participants instead of actually being the priest who is offering the Mass.”

    Which is feature, not a bug, for some of the advocates who have been pushing concelebration lo these many years.

  20. StWinefride says:

    Miss Anita Moore says: Is the Ordinary Form of the Mass in fact the liturgy that has been handed on in the Church down the centuries?

    No! and here’s Pope Benedict on the matter:

    What happened after the Council was something else entirely: in the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product (produit banal de l’instant). [Introduction by Cardinal Ratzinger to La Reforme Liturgique en question (Le-Barroux: Editions Sainte-Madeleine), 1992, pp. 7-8.]

  21. frjim4321 says:

    “I think one of the loveliest sights one can see is a priest in the congregation of a church, being just a ‘normal person’ for a change, but participating privately in the consecration from his pew. It’s very humbling, and all the priests I’ve seen in that position look very recollected and very immersed in the Mass.”

    I don’t beieve that’s a licit form of concelebration.

    By “normal” I assume you mean not vested.

    When on vacation and attending unvested as a member of the assembly I am not concelebrating.

  22. Dafyd says:

    Hi Father,

    I’m writing admittedly as something of an outsider, being from an Anglo-Catholic background, but the issue of concelebration has always puzzled me. When we have extra clergy around, usually we’ll start dividing out liturgical roles to make a Missa Cantata look more like High Mass — a deacon, a subdeacon, MC, thurifer, and so on. Wouldn’t that be a more productive use of extra clergy’s time than sitting around until it’s time to hop up and concelebrate?

  23. Joe in Canada says:

    frjim2431 is correct: a priest ‘in the congegration’ is not concelebrating. One of the ‘forms’ of concelebration used in religious communities is when all of a sudden you see see some hands shoot out – some of the priest members are concelebrating from their place, unvested, others are not. That is very confusing and should never happen. Unfortunately many religious priests take very informal practices from smallish communities and use them in public and in parishes.

    Gregorius: check the General Instruction for the Liturgy of the Hours. E.g. when Morning Prayer precedes Mass, after the opening, the Psalms are said, then the Penitential rite, then Mass continues, then the Intercessions from MP, then the Mass continues with the Canticle done before the Communion Prayer.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    FrJim4321 is correct. If a priest is sitting in the pews aka “in choro,” he’s not “concelebrating.”

    OTOH, Philippa Martyr is correct that it’s not the same kind of “assisting at Mass” as being a layperson sitting there, it’s usually quite edifying, and it is lovely to see.

    Of course, it would be even cooler if priests would wear “choir dress” when they’re “in choro,” and if they would help distribute Communion too; but the nature of our age is that sometimes we don’t have nice things.

    (Btw, it’s actually semi-common for priests to sit in choro in the choir loft. Choirs tend to like it.)

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Dafyd — That’s what Catholic priests used to do. They still are free to do it. Why it’s not usually done is a matter of politics, policy, and what people got taught to do at the seminary during the Seventies.

  26. RobertK says:

    Can’t remember how many times I heard the term “Vatican 2” during coverage today. The Saints of Vatican 2. How I will remember this occasion. Now the Vatican 2 purists have their Saints. It will be complete when Paul VI is made a Saint. Already discussions going on about that. Now traditional Catholics will reallty be second class citizens!. Maybe we should petetion to have the 1962 Missal be referred to as the Missal of Saint John XXIII. At least we can say our Missal was brought about thanks to a Saint.

  27. Dafyd says:

    It’s a shame to hear that used to be normative and no longer is. To me, it’s humbling to see a priest acolyte for another priest, for example. It’s even more humbling when a bishop does so for a priest saying Mass (which mine does regularly when he’s not doing an official episcopal visit). I imagine that rarely happens these days, though. It also ensures that clergy know how to do every role and have a sort of bird’s eye view of the Mass.

  28. Alexander Verbum says:

    May God in His Mercy compel Pope Francis to resign and guide the Papal conclave so that the good Cardinal Burke may be elected. Amen.

  29. Paliakas1 says:

    A concelebrated novus ordo mass, especially when it is a number of priests looks like a weird rendition of the hokey pokey dance. You put your left hand in, your left hand out, you do the liturgical hokey pokey and that is what concelebration is all about.

  30. Some of the comments above raise the issue of how a priest should participate in the Mass when he is not offering the Mass — either as the principal celebrant, or as a concelebrant.

    There is the longstanding practice of the priest participating “in choir” — meaning he vests partially — i.e., cassock and surplice, or else alb and cincture, but no stole or chasuble — and he sits in the sanctuary, in a distinct place. This was and is very common in the Extraordinary Form, but is unusual enough in the Ordinary Form as to be exotic in many places. So that tends to leave two choices: either the priests present will all concelebrate, or else they attend Mass in the manner of the laity. While concelebration is something the current General Instruction encourages, it doesn’t encourage priests attending Mass in the fashion of the laity:

    “For it is preferable that priests who are present at a Eucharistic Celebration, unless excused for a good reason, should as a rule exercise the office proper to their Order and hence take part as concelebrants, wearing the sacred vestments. Otherwise, they wear their proper choir dress or a surplice over a cassock” (GIRM, paragraph 114).

    Now, I wouldn’t read this as forbidding priests attending Holy Mass without choir dress and sitting in the assigned place, since they can be “excused for a good reason” — a good reason not to concelebrate can also be a good reason not to sit in choir.

    That said, I think “in choir” is far more appropriate than just sitting in the congregation, because of the ontological change that comes with holy orders. To be a bishop, priest or deacon is not merely a function, but a new identity, and an unchanging, new relationship to Christ the head. And part of how the liturgy is carried out is to depict the structure of the Mystical Body of Christ, in his head and members. This goes with why it matters who sits where, and who does what.

  31. A part of me wishes certain priests would sit in the pews from time to time at an Ordinary Form Mass, so that they may realize how the laity are driven like cattle through a noisy obstacle course in which it is impossible to pray or encounter the Mystery taking place at the altar.

  32. OrthodoxChick says:

    My husband’s uncle was a diocesan priest until his death and I can’t ever remember him wearing lay clothes and sitting in a pew at Mass while vacationing. He mostly took “stay-cations” close to home and whenever we joined him at those times, he would always call ahead to whichever parish was closest to his accommodations. He would notify them that he was a priest staying in the area and he would ask permission from the pastor to either concelebrate or sit in choir – pastor’s preference. He never just showed up un-announced because he considered it to be “poor form” and very discourteous. I just always assumed that was the proper protocol in such circumstances, which sounds like what Fr. Fox is explaining, or pretty darned close, I think.

  33. Uxixu says:

    I’ve noticed on the Jan 1’st Mass, only the pastor wore his chasuble while the other priests were partially vested (albs and stoles) while at the Easter Vigil and Christmas midnight Mass, they were fully vested. Even the deacons for the latter wore dalmatics (gothic-style) when they’re otherwise almost exclusively wearing just the alb and stole. Unfortunately even on those occasions still had a small army of ECMC. I would so very much love to see the side altars used instead.

    I do like the idea of priests concelebrating with their bishop, but otherwise it seems unnecessary in many times when there are perfectly good side altars.

  34. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:
    “I have just about convinced myself that Cardinal Burke will be our next Pope. At the very least I wouldn’t be surprised. We can hope.” greenlight

    Anything is possible but he may be too far out of the main stream to be given serious consideration.

    I agree that it’s not likely that he’ll be given serious consideration, but it has nothing to do with being in or out of whatever the mainstream is.

    If the next conclave were to be held in 5 years, IMHO, Pell, Ranjith, and Ouellet would be papabili.

  35. And a priest once told me he loved ‘going to Mass’ sometimes, just for a change, rather than concelebrating. He was quite sound and orthodox, and I still believe him.

  36. wmeyer says:

    Anything is possible but he may be too far out of the main stream to be given serious consideration. frjim1234

    The only mainstream of interest to a Catholic is that of Church teaching.

  37. wmeyer says:

    I have observed (in the far too frequent concelebrations in my parish) that only the primary celebrant is really focused on the Mass. As noted by others, some make varying efforts to say the prayers, but some do not. I have also observed at least one priest, during the responsorial psalm, sharing some witticism with the lector seated next to him.

    Things are more than sufficiently irreverent in the pews, without the priests adding to that.

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